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Get outdoors, and have fun together

The San Juan Outdoor Club (SJOC) is one of the most active organizations in Pagosa country. The name of the group speaks for itself, but does not tell the entire story.

The first objective found in the bylaws is “to further the enjoyment by its members and others of the beautiful country surrounding Pagosa Springs.” Members accomplish this in many ways. Opportunities extend to almost every aspect of enjoying the outdoors, and trips and activities are conducted with a strong emphasis on minimizing the human impact on the environment. Education and training opportunities are provided. The group is very active in community service projects that contribute positively to community life. If this sounds like a group you might enjoy hooking up with, read on.

The SJOC holds its regular monthly meeting on the first Thursday of the month at the Ross Aragon Community Center. The social hour begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by a brief meeting for business and announcements of the many upcoming events. Sign-up sheets are always provided at meetings so members can get all the details and put their names on the list to participate. The final portion of each meeting is a talk, demo, slide program or other presentation by the guest speaker for the month.

Programs might include talks by Search and Rescue personnel, EMTs, fire ecology experts, a Forest Service representative, a member who has taken a wonderful trip, representatives of local service groups, local sports medicine experts, someone who demonstrates conditioning for activities, or an expert on avalanche awareness. In recent years, one of the most popular programs has been a slide show in the fall featuring some of the many activities enjoyed by members throughout the year.

The SJOC is one of the largest, busiest, and fastest growing organizations in Archuleta County. It has grown from a small group meeting around a table at the Parish Hall in the mid 1990s, to a membership that can nearly fill the main room of the community center.

One of the great things about a club such as this is that members can choose to participate in as many or as few of the activities as they like, while enjoying fellowship with a wonderful group of like-minded individuals. This is a year-round organization. There are always places to go and things to do with these folks.

For example, September and October are not “off season” months for activities. In September there was the weekly ladies’ walk on Thursdays, always with coffee and good conversation afterward at a local establishment. The highway cleanup crew picked up debris on their adopted mile-long stretch of U.S. 160 just west of town. (This group meets for relaxation and refreshments afterward when they often tell stories of interesting “treasures” found during the cleanup.) A group of members have met weekly for leisure bicycling. Another bicycling group, the Pagosa Pedalers, has taken mountain bikes on some exciting trails and have a great time wearing themselves out. A fall color hike was planned, but that has been postponed a bit until the time when the leaves are more in their prime. There was a group that went car camping and enjoyed a weekend of easy to moderate hiking. One group took a backpack trip. Bowlers went to the bowling alley in Ignacio. (They say you do not have to be a great, or even a good, bowler to join in the fun.)

Along with all the physical activity, this group also enjoys socializing around food and beverage. The September meeting is always a potluck and includes a good time around a roaring campfire at Sportsman’s Lodge on Piedra Road. This is one of four annually scheduled potlucks. The others are in March to celebrate spring, in July after the July 4 parade (and the club always has a float in the parade), and in December.

There are so many other activities, they cannot all be mentioned, but here is a good sampling. During the winter, naturally, there are numerous snowshoeing, cross country and downhill skiing outings. Cross country outings are offered for both beginner and advanced skiers. Cross country skiing clinics have traditionally been offered as soon as snow is available. Winter activities include both local and out-of-town events. Last year, a large group enjoyed a few days in the Rico/Telluride area taking advantage of the snow up there — just for a little change of scenery. Molas Pass, south of Silverton, was another favorite spot for a cross country outing. Other members, those who did not wish to trade local snow for more snow, took off for Tucson, Ariz., and enjoyed hiking and warm weather.

Other activities have included houseboat trips to Lake Powell, 4-wheeling exploring, cultural and camping trips in Utah, a visit to Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico and camping weekends throughout the Four Corners area. Trips to Arizona have included stays at the historic La Posada Hotel in Winslow, a weekend in Canyon de Chelly, visits to Hopi communities and trading posts, and rafting and hiking journeys through the Grand Canyon.

Throughout the summer, hikes are among the most popular activities sponsored by club members. Favorite hikes have included Pagosa Peak, San Louis Peak, the Silverton area, Alberta Peak, peaks and trails surrounding Silverton, Buckles and Opal Lakes area, and Grayback Mountain. There are two levels of hiking opportunities. The hardy souls do the steeper, more strenuous hikes, while a Saturday “easy hike” group starts the season with very easy hikes and progresses through the summer as the skill and endurance levels of the hikers dictate. There is also the Thursday morning ladies’ walk group (mentioned earlier). Some of these ladies are hikers, bikers and backpackers as well, while others just enjoy the weekly stroll around the Pagosa Lakes area.

In 2009, summer outings also included fishing, a fly fishing clinic, a bicycle maintenance clinic, canoeing, kayaking and rafting on several local rivers.

All these activities are planned and led by club members. If someone is interested in an activity that is not offered, all he or she needs to do is contact the activities chairman, then plan and set a date for the activity. An activity sheet will be set out at the next meeting, and members can sign up to participate along with the leader.

Besides all these activities, club members participate in service and community oriented events throughout the year. The club always has one (or more) enthusiastic team(s) walking in the Relay for Life. Highway cleanup is done four times each year, from early spring through late fall. The club has worked closely with the local Trails Council in trail maintenance. Members enjoy shopping for toys and other items for area children as a part of Operation Helping Hand. These items are brought to the December potluck, then delivered to Helping Hand for distribution.

For at least a decade the club has proudly awarded college scholarships to graduating high school seniors. Two to four $1,000 scholarships are awarded annually. In 2009, there were four local recipients. The group wishes it could provide more scholarships as there are so many deserving and qualified young people who apply. Money for the scholarships is raised through a monthly “50-50” raffle drawing at the meetings, a silent auction of items donated by members at the July 4 potluck and the annual Ski and Sports Swap. This big event is happening soon. Get ready for bargains galore, and watch for further details in SUN articles between now and then.

The Swap will take place Saturday, Oct. 24, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at a new location — the Ross Aragon Community Center. The event has outgrown its old home at the Extension Building. When you buy or sell sports items at this event, you are not only helping yourself or members of your family with great deals , you are helping the SJOC help our local high school seniors. A portion of the of the proceeds from the Swap is also designated for Search and Rescue, a group that works to assist residents and tourists who are in need of help while participating in outdoor activities.

You can see how this group easily accomplishes its primary goal, “to get outdoors and have fun together.” You can find more information about the club on its Web site, www.sjocnewsletter.blogspot.com.

For a first-hand experience, come to a meeting and see for yourself what this group is all about.